NASA’s Capstone Cubesat is “happy and healthy” after restoring communications with the land, ending a 24 -hour period in which the spacecraft was out of contact with terrestrial communications.
Advanced Space, the Colorado -based company that built, has and is operating Capstone, Orbital Terran, which built the Cubesat platform, and NASA independently confirmed the reconnection on Wednesday.
Capstone, or technology operations of the autonomous and cislunar positioning system, is the first step for the ambitious Artemis program of NASA, whose objective is to return humans to the moon in the middle of this decade. The cubesat of the size of the microwave oven is intended to draw an unusual orbit around the moon, called an almost rectilinear halo (NRHO), which could eventually be used for a lunar space station.
That space station, which NASA refers as “gateway”, could open a wide variety of possibilities for the exploration of space by humanity. Gateway could be used to deposit rovers or humans on the moon, act as a replenishment or even as a route station for longer to Mars missions or beyond. But first, the agency wants to collect more data on NRHO, and that’s where Capstone enters.
A brief anomaly
The loss of communication occurred only one day after Capstone was deployed by Lunar Photon Booster of Rocket Lab. Rocket Lab provided launch services and delivery services of payload for the mission. Capstone was working as normal during the first eleven hours after his photon detachment, said Advanced Space in a statement. He successfully implemented his solar matrices and communicated with a terrestrial station of the deep space network (DSN) in Madrid, Spain. DNS is an international series of massive radio antennas operated by NASA to support deep space missions.
It seems that the anomaly occurred during the second pass of the land station with DSN, when Capstone made partial contact with an antenna in California. As Spacenews pointed out, amateur satellite observers first noticed Capstone’s descending link, causing a small wave of panic on Twitter. Due to the lack of communications, the first trajectory correction maneuver, the first of a series of maneuvers to ensure that the spacecraft remains in a precise trajectory to the moon, was delayed.
NASA observed in an update of the July 5 mission that Capstone is still on the way to the Ballistic Transfer to its objective orbit, even with the delay of this first maneuver. “One of the benefits of BLT, the designed trajectory, is its robustness to delays like this,” said Advanced Space in a mission update.
It is not clear why the underlying communications problem occurred, or what actions were taken to correct it. “Additional updates will be provided,” NASA said.